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Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

We have all heard the story of how Jesus healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law. Most of Western peoples wouldn't think twice about the fact that she was living in his home. However, for Semitic people a red flag would have immediately appeared in their consciousness. She should not have been living in Peter's home!

Social and cultural customs of this time dictate that women live in the homes of their husbands. If her husband preceded her in death, she would have lived in the home of her eldest son. If she had no sons, she would have returned to the home of her father upon the death of her husband. She would not have lived in the home of her daughter.

The Gospel records that she was lie in the grips of a fever and that Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up. She then began to wait on them. Again, none of this would appear strange to those of us who grew up in the culture of the West. However, this would appear strange to one with an Eastern cultural background. For a man to enter the area of the home where women reclined would have raised another red flag. It wasn't done.

In the verses immediately preceding this story, Jesus casts out an unclean spirit on the Sabbath. St. Mark records this as Jesus' first healing. Simon Peter's mother-in-law is the second healing story. It is clear from the outset that Jesus is going to stretch the boundaries of social and cultural convention. One simply did not deal with "unclean" spirits. To do so would have incurred the curse of ritual impurity. It simply wasn't done.

Jesus, on the other hand, does just that. He goes beyond purely social and cultural norms to help us see that sometimes it is necessary to go against the grain of society, to challenge social convention. Throughout history we have heard of men and women who do the same thing. Damien of Molokai ministered to a leper colony. Mother Teresa of Calcutta sheltered those who lived in the gutters. Dorothy Day did the same thing in our own country. The men and women we call saints often followed the example of Jesus quite literally and touched the lives of people whom social convention might considerable "untouchable."

The sanctity of human life is paramount. Whether it be the life of an unborn fetus or of a convicted criminal, whether it be the life of a drug addict or the victim of an incurable disease, whether it be a person with a physical disability or someone who is mentally ill, we must protect and touch the lives of all, even those society would deem undesirable or non-productive. To do less is simply not an option.

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